June was a great month in the North of England for brilliant performances by bands from the other side of the pond.
I had seen Toronto band AUSTRA the previous September at the Deaf Institute where they blew me away. Since then, they have firmly stayed my favourite band and many are on tenterhooks for the arrival of their imminent second album. Their follow-up Manchester show at Soup Kitchen was also spectacular. Hypnotic and majestic on stage, every member of the six-piece excel at what they do. Austra has a loyal following, having supported Gossip and more recently the XX on tour, but I’m still bemused by how under-the-radar this band still is. Judging by what drummer Maya told me at the Soup Kitchen gig, I can imagine that it’s in part voluntary, the band preferring to keep somewhat of a low profile when touring. Certainly, the mystique is partly what keeps Austra so magical…
The last time I saw American singer-songwriter SUZANNE VEGA perform live was a good 15 years ago. Though it’s always a bit daunting to see a beloved musician so many years later, I was determined to drive the hours up to York’s Grand Opera House to relive the experience. This 2012 performance was definitely lower-key but equally memorable: Sporting a top hat and trouser suit, Suzanne charmed the crowds with her affable personality, her voice having barely changed (possibly even improved?) over time. Close up, of course you could see the years, but onstage every song and sound was timeless, especially the classics from her first two albums. To boot, Suzanne was the consummate professional as she attended to every single fan (and, boy, was there a queue after the show) and conducted some charity fundraising on the night. I was impressed to see a crowd of people of all ages – clearly Vega mania is being passed down to younger generations, which is of great comfort. It is vital to pass on the poetry and ethics of these iconic artists.
ALANIS MORISSETTE was back in town. The last time I indulged in Morissette was for a preview of PKD sci-fi film “Radio Free Albemuth” in which she shines as central character Sylvia. We went as an all-girl posse – the perfect way to enjoy this huge voice and talent. As we watched in awe while she bounded around the stage with perfect sound and energy, we were left collectively in denial that the years had gone by. Seeing Alanis live makes you realize how influential an artist she has been for so many musicians and songwriters over the years, and what a massive impact she has had on people of a certain generation of varying genders and nationalities. It’s rare to see a working artist who is not only born to do what they do, but who visibly loves what they’re doing and still makes time to appreciate their time on this planet. Pure inspiration.
Another international band who left an impression on us was Brooklyn’s GHXST who smashed Manchester Northern Quarter’s cosy Kraak venue. Shelley, Chris and Nathan have a lot of natural cool both on and off-stage and many want to see them back in the UK soon. The extremely talented and charming Manchester-based Californian JESCA HOOP also impressed at Academy 3. We’ve since been glued to her latest album “The House That Jack Built” and Jesca performs with so much heart and depth, it’s hard not to love her live as well. We also caught JAMES LEVY AND THE BLOOD RED ROSE (aka duo James Levy and Allison Pierce of The Pierces) at Manchester’s Ruby Lounge – an excellent partnership who deserve a lot more attention. You couldn’t help but think of them as the modern-day Cash/Carter, and there’s no reason why with more publicity and a bit more fire in the lyrics and music they couldn’t take the US by storm. Another class international act who graced our stages in June was Australian singer-songwriter SAM SPARRO (of “Black and Gold” fame). Sparro and his crew blew Manchester’s The Deaf Institute with their sparkling soul-pop sounds. Although the venue was only half-full, Sparro got the crowds and floorboards bouncing.
We also had some joy with UK bands: London’s CHEW LIPS blasted Manchester’s Soup Kitchen. With a new and fabulous female drummer, the band’s balance feels solid with lead singer Tigs leaning into the crowds, giving her all with those powerful pipes. New act BASTILLE aka Dan Smith and crew was one of the standout acts at Manchester’s Dot 2 Dot Festival, while down south, BRIGHT LIGHT BRIGHT LIGHTS aka Rod Thomas gathered hipsters, teaming up with SYLVER TONGUE aka Charlotte Hatherley of Ash for his high-energy album launch.